10 Surprising Facts About Cloverfield

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

On February 4, 2018, football fans (and casual watchers) got an unexpected surprise during Super Bowl LII when Netflix announced that it was dropping The Cloverfield Paradox—the third film in the Cloverfield anthology—that very same night. 

It was just over 10 years ago, on January 18, 2008, that Paramount released the original Cloverfield, a low-budget, found-footage monster film produced by J.J. Abrams, written by Drew Goddard, and directed by Matt Reeves. In the movie, "Cloverfield" was the case name the government gave to the monster that’s destroying New York.

During the summer of 2007, while the movie was still being filmed, the studio released Cloverfield’s first trailer, which was attached to screenings of Transformers. The teaser concluded with the release date—1-18-2008—but the name of the film was withheld. Because people now knew a secret Abrams project was in the works, the filmmakers had to give code names to the movie, like Slusho! and Cheese.

With a budget of $25 million, the film grossed an impressive $170.7 million worldwide, with $40 million of that accumulating during its opening weekend. (At the time it was the biggest opening for a film released in January, but today, 10 years later, it ranks fourth.) In 2016, Abrams resurrected Cloverfield—this time in what he called “a blood relative.”

Paramount released 10 Cloverfield Lane on March 11, 2016, after announcing it two months earlier. It didn’t have much to do with the original film, but was still connected to the burgeoning Cloverfield universe. “It’s like Cloverfield is the amusement park, and each of these movies is a different ride in that park,” Abrams told Vanity Fair of the film's connections. (The Cloverfield Paradox is the latest film in the anthology.) Here are 10 things you might not have known about the movie that started it all.

1. IT WAS INSPIRED BY GODZILLA.

J.J. Abrams had wanted to make a monster movie for a while. He was in Japan with his son, who dragged him to toy stores. “We saw all these Godzilla toys and I thought, we need our own monster, and not King Kong,” Abrams said during a Comic-Con panel. “King Kong’s adorable. I wanted something that was just insane and intense.”

2. GODZILLA DID NOT INFLUENCE THE CLOVER MONSTER’S DESIGN.

Neville Page had the task of designing the 250-foot-tall Cloverfield monster, known as Clover. “I am not recalling being told to not do Godzilla-like designs," Page said. "It was more implicit. Since it was not a Godzilla movie, it would have been a huge mistake to do things like it.”

Realizing the monster needed to be a water creature, Page decided to add a tail to it. The monster is covered with deadly parasites known as HSP (human scale parasites). “I knew that I wanted something thin and vertical and light. Kinda like a flea,” he said about designing the other creatures.

3. THE MONSTER WAS SLIGHTLY CLUMSY, AND THAT WAS ON PURPOSE.

In an interview with io9, Page shared that if the monster seemed a little bit clumsy, there was a reason for that: It's supposed to be a baby. "I would have preferred that it be even clumsier," Page said. "But then it can get comical. Yes, it was the intention that it is a baby and it is not only developing its strength, but also its land legs. The proportions are intended to feel a little like a newborn deer or horse. Long, thin and slightly awkward."

4. LIZZY CAPLAN HAD NO IDEA WHAT SHE SIGNED ON FOR.

When the actors auditioned for the movie, they weren’t told what the film was, and they weren’t given a full script. In fact, the cast read sides from Alias. Lizzy Caplan agreed to star in the film because she was a fan of Lost.

“I was kind of relieved that it wasn’t Star Trek, not because I think Star Trek is going to be anything less than awesome, but just because I think that would be really strange to have no idea and then be in such a recognizable franchise,” she told MovieWeb.

The producers didn’t give her much of a backstory to work with, either. “I just try to think about like how much it would suck to be in a city being attacked by a monster and how much it would really suck to do it with a group of friends you barely knew and you weren’t with your own friends, trying to figure it out,” she said.

5. IT WAS A METAPHOR FOR 9/11.

Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, and Michael Stahl-David in Cloverfield (2008)
Paramount Pictures

Even though the film was released several years after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, having a real monster attack New York City became a metaphor for 21st-century anxieties. “[It works] in the same way that Godzilla was really a metaphor for its time, and was a sort of movie about the A-bomb and Hiroshima and all of that,” director Matt Reeves told IGN.

“We wanted to let people live through their wildest fears but be in a safe place where the enemy is the size of a skyscraper instead of some stateless, unseen cowardly terrorist,” Abrams told TIME.

Abrams and the rest of the team looked at handheld videos shot in Iraq as a way to base the film in reality. “In many of these Iraq videos, we felt like we were just missing the most terrifying thing,” Abrams said. However, he said the film was “entertainment” and a throwback to monster movies from his youth. “I hadn’t seen anything that felt that way for many years,” he said. “I felt like there had to be a way to do a monster movie that’s updated and fresh. So we came up with the YouTube-ification of things, the ubiquity of video cameras [and] cell phones with cameras. The age of self-documentation felt like a wonderful prism through which to look at the monster movie.”

6. MATT REEVES DIDN'T UNDERSTAND WHY THEY WANTED HIM TO DIRECT IT. 

At this point in his career, Reeves had mainly written and directed character-based projects, including co-creating Felicity with Abrams and writing and directing the film The Pallbearer.

Drew Goddard and Abrams wrote an outline of the film and asked Reeves to direct it. “I was very taken with it, but I was like, ‘This is huge, it’s visual effects. It’s a monster movie. Why are you thinking of me?’” Reeves told IGN. “They were like, ‘Look, there’s no question, we know you love movies and you can get the monster part. We’re interested in what you would do in terms of the tone, in how you would do that and what you would do with the characters.’ And then I got very excited because the idea of doing sort of an outrageous idea, but doing it sort of naturalistically with a real aesthetic, was a real exciting idea. So that got me hooked. I jumped in.”

7. THERE WAS A NOD TO ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.

A scene from 'Cloverfield' (2008)
Paramount Pictures

In the film and in the trailer, the monster knocks the Statue of Liberty’s head into the street. Reeves said the idea came from the poster for John Carpenter's Escape from New York.

“The poster had an image on it of the head of the Statue of Liberty and that image was nowhere in the movie! And it’s an incredibly provocative image,” Reeves told IGN. “And that was the source that inspired J.J. to say, ‘Now this would be an interesting idea for a movie.’”

8. A LOT OF MOVIEGOERS VOMITED.

Because the film featured shaky, handheld images, many viewers experienced vertigo and got sick, similar to what happened during The Blair Witch Project’s theatrical run. Theaters had to post signs saying: “Due to the filming method used for Cloverfield, guests viewing this film may experience side effects associated with motion sickness, similar to riding a roller coaster.” AMC offered to refund those audience members who found the experience too unpleasant to watch.

Thankfully, 10 Cloverfield Lane was not filmed in the same manner. 

9. NOT ALL OF THE ACTORS WERE CONVINCED THE MOVIE WOULD BE ANY GOOD.

In an interview with The A.V. Club, T.J. Miller revealed that both he and co-star Lizzy Caplan weren't confident the concept would pan out. “Even when we were filming, I kept talking to Lizzy Caplan, and she and I would be like, ‘I don’t think this is going to work. I don’t think this is going to be good,’” he said. “We knew there was buzz around it, and J.J. was good at that, and as it got closer to the release date, we started to watch the fan boards and hear what they had to say about everything, and it was pretty amazing. I’d never seen anybody position a movie like that.”

10. 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE COINCIDENTALLY ALIGNED WITH CLOVERFIELD.

John Gallagher Jr. and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Michele K. Short, Paramount Pictures

Josh Campbell and Matthew Stucken wrote a script entitled The Cellar, and Abrams’s production company bought it. “We began developing the story, and we came upon some things where it became clear to us that we were in a very interesting place, because the story was wholly original, a very different situation, different characters from anything we’ve done,” Abrams told Entertainment Weekly. "But the spirit of it, the genre of it, the heart of it, the fear factor, the comedy factor, the weirdness factor—there were so many elements that felt like the DNA of this story were of the same place that Cloverfield was born out of."

Despite the shared DNA, Abrams didn’t want it to be a sequel. “We very intentionally didn’t call this movie Cloverfield 2, but we realized that there was enough of a connection, and the movie was good enough that it warranted this association in a way that we think is justified and exciting,” he said.

10 Things You Might Not Know About Robert De Niro

RALPH GATTI, AFP/Getty Images
RALPH GATTI, AFP/Getty Images

Robert De Niro is part of the pantheon of independent-minded filmmakers who cut through Hollywood noise in the 1970s with edgier fare to create what became known as “The New Hollywood.” Following stints with Brian De Palma and Roger Corman, De Niro teamed up with Martin Scorsese for the first time with 1973's Mean Streets, which launched a fruitful artistic collaboration that has produced some of the best movies of the past half-century.

Even after his shift into commercial comedies like Meet the Parents, “dedication” has remained De Niro’s watchword. The two-time Oscar winner has earned Hollywood legend status with panache and bone-deep portrayals. Here are 10 facts about the filmmaker on his 75th birthday. (Yes, we’re talkin’ to you.)

1. HIS FIRST ROLE WAS IN A STAGING OF THE WIZARD OF OZ—AT AGE 10.

Robert De Niro got bit by the acting bug early. He threatened to thrash a hippopotamus from top to bottom-us as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz at the tender age of 10. (This is the remake and casting the world needs right now.)

2. HE DROPPED OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL TO PURSUE ACTING.

Robert De Niro arrives at the UK premiere of epic war drama film 'The Deer Hunter', UK, 28th February 1979
John Minihan, Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

De Niro’s mother, Virginia Admiral, was a painter whose work was part of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and his father, Robert De Niro, Sr., was a celebrated abstract expressionist painter. So the apple falling into drama school instead of the art studio still isn’t that far from the tree. Having already gotten a youthful dose of stage life, De Niro quit his private high school to try to become an actor. He first went to the nonprofit HB Studio before studying under Stella Adler and, later, The Actors Studio.

3. HE’S A DUAL CITIZEN OF THE UNITED STATES AND ITALY.

De Niro is American, Italian-American, and, as of 2004, Italian. The country bestowed honorary citizenship upon De Niro as an honor in recognition of his career, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing to the passport office. A group called the Order of the Sons of Italy in America strongly protested the Italian government’s plan due to De Niro’s frequent portrayal of negative Italian-American stereotypes.

4. HE GAINED 60 POUNDS FOR RAGING BULL.

Preparing to play the misfortune-laden boxing champ Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull required two major things from De Niro: training and gaining. For the latter, De Niro ate his way through Europe during a four-month binge of ice cream and pasta. His 60-pound-gain was dramatic enough that it concerned Martin Scorsese. It was one way to show dedication to a role, but the training element was even more impressive. De Niro got so good at boxing that when LaMotta set up several professional-level sparring bouts for the actor, De Niro won two of them.

5. HE AND MARLON BRANDO ARE THE ONLY ACTORS TO WIN OSCARS FOR PLAYING THE SAME CHARACTER.

De Niro won his first Oscar in 1975 for The Godfather: Part II, for portraying the younger version of Vito Corleone—the wizened capo played by Marlon Brando, who also won an Oscar for the role (Brando’s came in 1973, for The Godfather). No other pair of actors has managed the feat, although Jeff Bridges came close in 2010 when he was nominated for playing Rooster Cogburn in Joel and Ethan Coen's True Grit (a role originated by John Wayne in Henry Hathaway’s 1969 movie of the same name). Oddly enough, Bridges was in contention for the role of Travis Bickle, the role that earned De Niro his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

6. HE DROVE A CAB TO PREPARE FOR TAXI DRIVER.

If you’re looking for commitment to a role, ask Hack #265216. De Niro got a taxicab driver’s license to study up to play Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and spent several weekends cruising around New York City picking up fares. It’s possible that having his teeth filed down for Cape Fear is the most intense transformation he’s undergone for a role, but picking up a part-time job to live the lonely life of Bickle is more humane.

7. ONE OF HIS FILMS POSTPONED ONE OF HIS OSCAR WINS.

The 53rd Academy Awards—where De Niro won for playing Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull—were originally scheduled for March 30, 1981 but were postponed until the following day because of an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. The would-be assassin, John Hinckley, Jr., claimed the attack was intended to impress Jodie Foster, who Hinckley grew obsessed with after watching Taxi Driver.

8. HE LAUNCHED THE TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL IN THE WAKE OF 9/11.

Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal speak onstage at the 'Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives' Premiere during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at Radio City Music Hall on April 19, 2017 in New York City
Theo Wargo, Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Producer Jane Rosenthal, philanthropist Craig M. Hatkoff, and De Niro founded the Tribeca Film Festival in 2001 as a showcase for independent films that would hopefully “spur the economic and cultural revitalization of lower Manhattan” after the devastation of the 9/11 terror attacks. With its empire state of mind, the inaugural festival in 2002 featured a “Best of New York Series” handpicked by Martin Scorsese and drew an astonishing 150,000 attendees.

9. HE WAS ONCE INTERROGATED BY FRENCH POLICE CONCERNING A PROSTITUTION RING.

One of the most bizarre chapters in De Niro’s life came when he was publicly named in the investigation of a prostitution ring in Paris. The 1998 incident included a lengthy interrogation session (De Niro filed an official complaint) and a pile of paparazzi waiting for him when he left the prosecutor’s office. De Niro railed against the entire country, vowing to return his Legion of Honour and telling Le Monde newspaper that, "I will never return to France. I will advise my friends against going to France.” (He had cooled off enough by 2011 to act as the Cannes Film Festival’s jury president.)

10. HE LOVED THE CAT(S) IN MEET THE PARENTS.

Meet the Parents’s Mr. Jinx (Jinxy!) was played by two Himalayans named Bailey and Misha, and De Niro fell in love with them. He played with them between scenes, kept kibble in his pocket for them, and asked director Jay Roach to have Mr. Jinx in as many scenes as possible.

National Portrait Gallery Celebrates Aretha Franklin With Week-Long Exhibition

Courtesy of Angela Pham BFA
Courtesy of Angela Pham BFA

With the passing of Aretha Franklin on August 16, 2018, the world has lost one of its most distinctive voices—and personalities. As celebrities and fans share their memories of the Queen of Soul and what her music meant to them, the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery will pay tribute to the legendary songstress's life with a week-long exhibition of her portrait.

Throughout her career, Franklin earned some of the music industry's highest accolades, including 18 Grammy Awards. In 1987, she became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Nearly 30 years later, in 2015, the National Portrait Gallery fêted Franklin with the Portrait of a Nation Prize, which recognizes "the accomplishments of notable contemporary Americans whose portraits reside in the National Portrait Gallery collection." (Madeline Albright, Spike Lee, and Rita Moreno are among some of its recent recipients.)

Milton Glaser's lithograph of Aretha Franklin, which is displayed at The National Portrait Gallery
© Milton Glaser

Franklin's portrait was the creation of noted graphic designer Milton Glaser, who employed "his characteristic kaleidoscope palette and innovative geometric forms to convey the creative energy of Franklin's performances," according to the Gallery. The colorful lithographic was created in 1968, the very same year that the National Portrait Gallery opened.

Glaser's image will be installed in the "In Memoriam" section of the museum, which is located on the first floor, on Friday, August 17 and will remain on display to the public through August 22, 2018. The Gallery is open daily from 11:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. and admission is free.

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